For the past 4-5 weeks we have been in a state of pseudo-hibernation. At least, that’s how I am feeling about it. We’ve had some warm days where we’ve been able to work outside, but most of the work we’ve done has been indoors – Trav continuing his graphic design work, me getting caught up on stuff with my Etsy businesses, and both of us doing work around the house (including some demo in the kitchen). Other than a brief dusting of snow the week before Christmas, we had an unseasonably warm December. Then January came, the temperatures plunged, and in the middle of the month came Winter Storm Jonas.
I had been dreading winter since we got here. I dread winter every year; I even dreaded winter in Alabama. I knew very well I could expect a harsher winter here, however I’ve always said “If it’s going to be freezing out, it may as well snow.” And it has! Winter Storm Jonas brought us over a foot of snow – adding to the 3-4 inches we already had on the ground from two days prior. Here in Burnsville the snow plows come early and often. French Broad Power deals with power outages swiftly. Most everyone has generators and/or wood stoves, and neighbors are ready to help each other when needed. This is a town that doesn’t freak out about snow because they know it’s going to happen and plan for it. There’s no fighting over milk sandwiches here. That said, I’d like to give a short list of what we have learned in our first winter here. (TS may add to this list later or create his own.)
What we have learned in our first winter on the homestead in WNC:
1. Human bodies DO become accustomed to colder temperatures. I used to think anyone who lived anywhere that was cold a lot was just F-ing nuts. While spending my first 34 year of life in Georgia and Alabama (as well as being naturally cold-natured) I felt that any temperature below 50 degrees was extremely unpleasant and when the temps dropped below 40 I was in near-meltdown mode if I had to be outside longer than 15 seconds. During our last two winters in Alabama, it cost what felt like a million dollars a month to heat our 2600-square-foot energy-DEficient house to 72 degrees which was just barely warm enough to tolerate on the main level. Meanwhile, the 3-story stairwell trapped the heat and always remained within 1/10th of a degree of absolute hell. And yet the bedrooms felt like the deep tundra. Now here we are in an 816-square-foot early 1900’s house in the mountains and our one small monitor heater heats our main rooms to 67 degrees and that actually feels too hot at times. Our bedroom and the office both tend to be chilly since they are farthest from the heater, but it’s still not too bad. We are looking forward to installing a wood stove at some point. As for outside, now that we’re used to it an outside temperature of 40 degrees is not only tolerable, but even warrants going jacket-free when you’ve got physical work to do.
2. When it DOES get really cold in the mountains, it gets REALLY cold. There’s no throwing on an unzipped jacket to run outside for a minute here. Multiple layers of warm clothing are absolutely necessary when it’s below freezing, especially when the temps are in the teens. Forget snow – the absolute worst cold I’ve ever felt in my life was an early January morning that was a totally dry but windy 7 degrees. It would have been nice to stay indoors and not have to find out what that felt like, but chickens and rabbits need to be fed and they also need water several times a day. I have to carry at least 2 gallons of hot water in a bucket to the barn in order to thaw the blocks of ice in the rabbits’ water bowls so that I can pop the ice out and refill them with water. That has to be done three times a day when the temperatures stay low. I have also been constantly worried about the animals being cold. Adult rabbits do fine in cold weather (even as far north as Canada!) as long as they are dry and don’t have wind blowing on them. But our barn is old and quite drafty, so I have to rely on strategically hung tarps/towels/blankets to keep every”bunny” safe from hypothermia.
3. Over three inches of snow is a LOT of fun, but over a foot is too much! During my childhood in Georgia we usually had one “good” snow per year which was maybe 1around 2 inches. It was just enough to get excited about school being cancelled, build a snowman with my BFF, marvel at the beauty of everything covered in white, roast marshmallows in the fireplace, and then go back to normal the next day. The first good snow we had here in Burnsville was 4-5 inches and it was a blast – we all had a great time sledding and playing in the snow. Two days later we got another foot or so dumped on top of that. It was still fun for sledding and snow-fort-building, but I quickly found out it’s a LOOOOONG walk to the barn trudging through foot-deep snow (while carrying a heavy bucket of hot water!). I walked our large dog Cloud in snow that was up to her elbows while the soft powder came over and into my boots. TS shoveled out a path to the barn so I could get there and back quickly. He also shoveled out enough of the chickens’ yard so they could get in and out of the coop to get some fresh food and water though I ended up putting bowls inside the coop for them anyway.
4. There’s nothing scary about getting snowbound for a few days. We always have extra food, we have a generator to run our heater if we lose power, and we don’t have anywhere we have to go. Our internet is spotty at times and both TS and I work online so that can be tricky! But we do our best to plan ahead and work extra when we need to so that a few days of spotty internet and mail service is only a moderate inconvenience. I DO have to make sure we have enough food for the animals – we were really low on rabbit pellets at one point. But as long as we have heat and food we’ll be okay. If something does happen, we have great neighbors we can depend on. During Winter Storm Jonas our neighbor “Pastor Jerry” drove up the road checking on everyone and giving out loaves of bread. We were able to help out as well by loaning TS’s 4wd Jeep to our neighbor who needed to get his wife to her hospital appointments in Asheville. After nearly a week of being stuck at home I was getting seriously antsy and ready to get out, but it was still doable. The kids had a lot of fun playing in the snow, learning how to play Uno, and watching Star Wars.
Overall this winter has been a completely new experience for me and has been full of surprises and challenges. It has been very different than my expectations. The things I expected to be difficult have been less difficult than I thought, whereas things I didn’t even think about have been much more challenging than I could have known. I am SO excited for Spring that I feel like a marathon runner who can see the finish line, even though I have no idea how much longer the race will last. I’m just holding on with the end in sight for as long as I have to.